Can Women “Have It All”?

“Can women have it all?”


Much has been made of this topic in recent years. And for good reason – this is an important question that ties into various societal, philosophical and psychological issues. The more recent update has been a more realistic and perhaps grounded perspective – that you can have it all, just not all at the same time. I think this is a great step forward in terms of prioritizing, placing more realistic expectations on women, and them on themselves.

But let me take the conversation one step further. Do you even want to have it all?! I think women are fed this message by the media, but more so by one another, as well as familial and generational inputs. There is some old-time tradition that you should be Susie Homemaker, as well as great in the bedroom, as well as the perfect mother (and daughter). We’ve now added the idea that you should have the perfect toned body, the perfect car and heels, as well as the perfect job. But who says that that’s all for you? And I don’t mean that you are not capable of possessing or acquiring all these skills, traits, accolades and items. But is that something you care about!? If looking “sexy” is not something that you value, if your body has never been a source of pride or pain for you, then who cares if you make it to every hot yoga class this week? If driving a fancy sports car was never in your list of values or priorities, why is it now? Are you keeping up the Joneses? Are you trying to keep up with yourself? Do you feel that you “should”?

But the trick here, you see, is to know what your values and priorities are, and then feel comfortable defending these, whether internally or externally, when challenged in a social, occupational, or other setting. To be able to say, at least in your mind, I don’t care that I don’t look like Susan when I wear yoga pants, that’s great for Susan, that doesn’t really matter to me. That’s wonderful for Catrina that she just got a new promotion, but I don’t need a promotion, I like my job, I like my work hours, I like the “balance.”

And let’s comment on this, “balance” does not mean 10’s across the board, but rather, some days you score a 10 on one scale, and perhaps a 2 in the other. My goal, for myself as well as my patients, is to find the equilibrium day to day, week to week. We are multifaceted. Look at the categories that define you, across the board. They may be the ones I’ve already listed, we may also add things like religiosity and spirituality, philanthropy efforts, and so on. I think you can look at your life, overly simplified, as a bar graph. 0 to 10 scale’s across the board. Where do you rate on these on a day to day, or week to week, or month to month term? Do you want to improve on some? Are you okay letting some go, or erasing them from the chart altogether? Take stock…on a regular basis. If there is something you’re doing well in, make note of what’s working, keep it up! Don’t rest, but don’t put in any extra effort to change. If there’s something you feel you’re declining on that scale, consider whether you’re at a “put in extra effort” type of phase, and double down next week or month. Or, strike it from the chart, it doesn’t matter, that’s why it’s getting neglected! A silly example that comes to mind is the stereotype of these muscular men at gyms, with giant chests and arms, and “bird legs”. In the bodybuilding community it is not always valued to have big muscular legs, but the chest and arms are always the focus. So to these guys, they have chosen their priorities, they don’t care about your comments or critiques about their legs, so long as you gasp at the size of their biceps. You could say the same about the high-powered CEO who neglects time with family, does not attend religious or spiritual services, but seem so confident, self-assured, and smug in her (rare) attendance at school or church events. She has clearly chosen to prioritize career, money, power over these other domains.

So you’re seeing a trend here, I am not necessarily laying out the criteria to be a “perfect” or “good” person. But on the question of balance, or “having it all”, the reality is that you will feel more self-assured, secure, and (frankly) happy if you make peace with picking what matters, and dropping what doesn’t. The truly “successful” people have already figured this out. And if you point out to them the things that they’re lacking, rather than feeling an ego blow, they more often than not will have a quick response as to why that’s not what matters to them. (Granted, this can be an ego defense, but it also can be a sign of self-awareness and strength. It’s all in how you use it.)

The takeaway? Do more of what matters, do enough of it that you feel you’re on balance, or the trend is upward. Do less of what doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what’s happening for the other person, it’s about what matters to you. We all have different looking bar graphs. We all have different priorities and levels of happiness. We. Are. All. Different!

And PS. You can have it all, you can have all of what you desire. You cannot have all of everything. We must pick and choose. And then put in the effort.

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